|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is my impression that the noble and learned Lord is wrong about the history. It is because it has always been done in two stages that a proper reform has not taken place. One has only to look at the precedent of 1911, where the Preamble said that the House should be elected on a more popular basis. That did not happen because it was a two-stage process. That is why the noble Lord is wrong about the history. Does he not accept the point that we have made, that if he is so serious about long-term reform, and if he is so serious about getting rid of the hereditary peerage, it is far more likely to happen if it is done in one go.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, in 1911 neither stage happened. He will recall, as he sits there proudly as an hereditary Peer, that no hereditary Peers were expelled at that stage. In 1968, again it was tried in two stages and again it failed. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I believe it is he who is wrong about the
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord is so certain that he is right and that we will go to a stage two, why will he not provide any guarantees on the face of the Bill that that is what will happen?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I believe it is neither appropriate nor necessary to give such guarantees or to tie our hands in any way because the appropriate course is a move, first, to abolish the rights of the hereditary Peers to sit and vote, secondly, to get the views of the Royal Commission and the Joint Committee, and, thirdly, to move to the next stage. With the greatest respect, that seems to us, and I believe it would seem to objective observers, to be a sensible way of moving and a sensible way of building a consensus in relation to it.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord. There was a bit of a roar from this side when he said that it was neither appropriate nor necessary. Could the noble and learned Lord take on board that if, on the one hand, he is saying, "Oh, but we will operate by consensus"--the noble and learned Lord has been saying that--how on earth can he also say that it is not appropriate and necessary to deal with the matter as suggested?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I was asked about matters on the face of the Bill, as the noble Lord probably heard. The consensus that we seek to obtain is one in the country. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, ultimately it is a matter for a consensus that embraces the whole of the nation in relation to what happens next, not just a consensus in this place.
I move from that point. The next point made, which was a theme throughout the debate, concerned the transitional House. Many noble Lords have complained about the terms of the interim House. Some--although not many--have said that it will be worse than the existing House. As I understand it, the argument goes that the random nature of the selection of the hereditary Peers provides a particular sort of protection against abuse that would not be present with only 500 life Peers. As I understand it, that is the argument advanced in this respect.
Perhaps I may identify the characteristics of this House before the passage of any Bill. The Prime Minister of whatever party has at the moment an unfettered right to appoint life Peers or hereditary Peers to the House. The Tories have an inbuilt majority in this House which could not be got rid of without the most massive creation of new Peers. There is an identifiable
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord explain to the House how enough of the 500 life Peers will attend to execute the business of the House? Many have a living to make and therefore cannot be here on a daily basis. A good many are not well enough to attend on a daily basis. And there is no requirement on any Peer, either life or hereditary, to attend this place. In what way would the noble and learned Lord ensure that there are enough life Peers to keep the business of the House going, given that I have looked at all the statistics over the past five years and the average daily attendance of life Peers would not be enough for the Government to be able to conduct all the business of the House?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that intervention. I speak having been a Member of your Lordships' House for only two years, so I lack her great experience in relation to these matters. However, on this side of the House we have 175 life Peers and 18 hereditary Peers, and we have been able convincingly and happily for the two years during which we have been in government to conduct a reasonable government side of the House--
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I see the noble Baroness saying, "You have not". Speaking from my perspective, we have been able perfectly adequately to conduct the business of the House on this side of the House. I have no idea whether the noble Baroness thinks that the life Peers on her side of the House would not give that degree of devotion and duty to the conduct of the business of the House--I suspect that they would--even though they have livings to earn and are not compelled to be here. Looking around, I see a large number of life Peers on the Conservative side of the House, and on the Liberal Democrat side--
Lord Vivian: My Lords, before the Minister continues, may I develop that argument for a moment? According to the records based on a daily attendance figure of 400 Peers, only 228 life Peers attend daily. If one then adds perhaps 92 hereditary Peers, one still reaches a figure of only 320 Peers. This means that if we wish to run this Chamber with around 400 Peers, with the present business, functions, roles and powers, there will be a shortfall of 80 Peers. My question is, therefore, that on the basis of the facts, can the Minister confirm that 228 life Peers attend this House daily?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I have not had an opportunity independently to check the figures. But even on the figures the noble Lord has given, I cannot see much difficulty in relation to the business of the House being carried on. The business of the House involves Committee sittings, Questions, debates; sometimes there are votes and sometimes there are not. There would be little difficulty in the main business of the House being carried on on the basis suggested by the noble Lord. I have no doubt that our side of the House would be able to do it. I have no doubt that circumstances would be adapted even on the noble Lord's side of the House to ensure that, when necessary, Peers would turn up to do what was required of them. I am not as pessimistic as he, nor do the figures indicate that the business of the House would not be carried on.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Does he not agree that what he is saying demonstrates that the discussion should be in terms of the active Members of this House? Also, does he not agree that the more he speaks, the more he reinforces the point I was making earlier in the debate? All he is doing is building assertion on assertion. No study has been undertaken to bear out his claim. Can he say what he has looked at to bear out his statements?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, active membership is the vital point. The noble Lord constantly comes back to the point that a House with 500 life Peers would not be able to carry on the business of a second Chamber. He may recall that in the United States of America the second chamber has 100 members. So we have five times that number. I ask your Lordships to look around the House at five past three in the morning.
Lord Cochrane of Cults: My Lords, will the Minister confirm my belief that each senator in the Senate of the United States is assisted by at least five research assistants, inquirers or other nosy parkers in the pursuit of their duty?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page